Saurabh Varanasi
(Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

What was the impact of playing tennis on the manner in which Saurabh Varanasi dealt with the obstacles during his master’s thesis? He calls it the baby-step approach.

This is going to be my last article as a columnist. I graduated last month and, to be honest, it feels strange to not be called a student any more. I suppose it’s because as students we enjoy a certain sense of freedom to pursue what we wish to within a particular time frame. Once you graduate, an invisible weight of responsibility in the form of finding a job and having to earn a living falls upon your shoulders.

Anyhow, in this article I would like to explain the impact of playing tennis on the manner in which I dealt with the obstacles during my master’s thesis. Tennis is a sport I have always enjoyed playing since my childhood. I haven’t had a lot of formal training and have for sure not played professionally, but it’s hard to recall any other activity which gives me as much satisfaction as playing an hour of tennis does. My tryst with tennis continued when I arrived at TU Delft. I chose a house which is a two minute walk from the sports centre X and this served as an additional motivation to pursue the sport regularly.

Aside from the obvious benefits in terms of physical fitness and stress busting, tennis brought about more subtle changes in me and subconsciously altered my approach in dealing with problems, especially in my final year. TU Delft, in general, is known to have a rigid curriculum. But, when it comes to completing one’s thesis, the stakes are much higher. Although there is a committee of supervisors to guide you in this process, a thesis demands a very high level of independence in first creating a problem and next going about finding a solution to it. How better to exemplify the importance of independence than a sport such as tennis (singles) wherein you plan, strategise and nudge yourself to give your best – all completely by yourself. In this sense, tennis mentally prepared me for my thesis.

‘Tennis altered my approach in dealing with problems’

The sport has also made me more resilient. Imagine this scenario during a match: you are trailing five games to one in the final set and it’s the opponent’s turn to serve. For those not aware of the rules of the game, you need to win six games to win a set and the player who is serving usually has the upper hand. So, when the opponent is at such a competitive advantage, what exactly goes through your mind? I have been in plenty of similar instances. The way I look at it, the only thing I am certain of at that moment is that I will not give up and that I will try my best to at least win one game. Once I win that game, I extrapolate the same thought to the next game. This step by step process of conquering the match enables my confidence to build exponentially with every game. I observed that I was able to translate this spirit into other scenarios outside of tennis, like my thesis. Instead of being consumed by the overwhelming feeling of having to cross all the hurdles at once, the baby-step approach immensely helped me. The fact that tennis went on to act as a silent and unobtrusive companion during my research which kept me happy, motivated and inspired came as a pleasant surprise.

Saurabh Varanasi is from Hyderabad, India, and graduated last month in his MSc in Construction Management & Engineering at TU Delft. A tennis enthusiast by physique and a dog lover by heart, a major chunk of his remaining time goes into conducting post-mortem analyses of old and new Indian films on his blog, where he recommends and reviews the movies that matter. He maintains a healthy balance of all the above with an inherent sincerity towards academics. This is his last column for Delta.